Hello from Vietnam! When I began this blog post I was back in Wisconsin preparing to come to Vietnam for a 10 month Fulbright grant as an English Teaching Assistant in a Vietnamese college. When I say preparing, I really mean jetting around the country to visit family and friends and then ferociously packing for a couple days. Now, here I am in Hanoi, Vietnam's capitol, preparing for what is sure to be a life-changing adventure.
This opportunity would have simply not happened without the Luther community. I initially heard of the Fulbright student program through fellow Luther grads/Fulbrighters. Then, my Luther grad cousin, Kimmy Rooney, was applying to Senegal this year and encouraged me to look into it. I contacted Luther's Associate Dean Terry Sparkes to see if there was anything she suggested. Terry worked with me to fine-tune and tweak my application, even talking on the phone well after midnight. I am so incredibly thankful for her support. I am sure I would not be here if it had not been for Terry. Another special thank you to French Professor Mademoiselle Feat and Diversity Center Executive Director Sheila Radford-Hill for their continued patience and support as well.
Rewind. You may be wondering, "So… what is the Fulbright program?" The Fulbright program is the "flagship international educational exchange" program at the U.S. Department of State. The Fulbright program encourages building relationships and mutual understanding between the U.S. and more than 155 countries around the world through people to people interactions. Within the Fulbright Program, there are many types of grants available to U.S. and foreign students, scholars, teachers, artists, scientists and professionals. Check it out, I did! And now from August 2014 to the end of May 2015, I will be teaching English at Bihn Thuan Community College in Phan Thiet, Vietnam.
My choice of Vietnam was a bit out of the ordinary since I had studied French in college and had some experience in Africa, particularly Senegal. I was first drawn to Vietnam by the stories and glimpses of tradition and culture I was able to glean from a number of Vietnamese friends through my work at Luther College's Diversity Center (Tam, Phuc, Hung!). During student teaching I also worked with Hmong students and community members in western Wisconsin, many of whom are first or second generation immigrants and refugees from Vietnam and Laos after the Vietnam War. And of course, as a history teacher the study of Vietnam and its unique history and interactions with the United States and France have always interested me.
Before I left, I tried asking as many people as I could, "What do you think when you hear, 'Vietnam?'" The overwhelming response was the war. I would follow up with "What do you think about Vietnam today?" This was a more difficult question for most. What would your answer be? For me, my answer was just some basic concepts like trade, clothing marked "Made in Vietnam" and territory disputes with China recently. But I know there is so much more to it than that.
So we'll learn together. I am so excited for such a wonderful opportunity to be immersed in an entirely new culture and language. I look forward to learning more about an area of the world I do not know much about and engage in some cross-cultural exchange with those I meet along the way. If I've learned anything through my travels it's that you find wonderful people everywhere you go. Let's go see what that means in Vietnam.